Kevin Saldana / Minor Leagues
AN INTRODUCTION TO MINOR LEAGUE SPRING TRAINING
By KEVIN SALDANA
Since the time that I first joined the Society for American Research (SABR) in 1982, great strides have been made in the research of the history of professional baseball. However, there are still areas and topics that have not been well researched. As a historian, I firmly believe that when you write a history on any topic or subject, you should tell the whole story and nothing but the whole story. About a year ago, I had started to write an article on the history of spring training by the AAA clubs, when one morning while driving to work in the predawn hours of a chilly morning, I thought to myself its too bad that SABR does not have spring training COMMITTEE!! That's it!! I will start the Spring Training Committee!! Having a large volume notes on the subject, I found myself the perfect candidate to found and head the committee. It is with these qualifications, I introduce to you the subject of Minor League Spring Training
As many of you already know professional league baseball started with the 1871 National Association and continued though the next five years until the NA was replaced by the National League in 1876. Many of you probably know that the first minor league arrived in 1877, when the International Association was founded. Where any of these clubs did any of their spring drills is yet to be researched. When the subject of where these clubs went to spring training is researched I am quite confident that we will find that most if not all of these clubs stayed home. Exactly when clubs started to take trips away from home for spring training on a regular basis has not yet been determined. What is known is that at least one National League club went to Jacksonville, FL in 1888. What we do know is where most of the higher minor league clubs have trained since 1923. We also know where most minor league clubs have trained since 1950. We do have some information on where some of the clubs trained before that. Most clubs before 1950 are believed to have stayed home or traveled a very short distance from home.
In 1903 we do know that the Helena, MT Club of the Pacific National League went to Bakersfield, CA and that the Los Angeles Club of the same league went to Riverside, CA. In that same year American Association clubs from Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Toledo went to Nashville, TN, Leavenworth, KS, Little Rock, AR and South Bend, IN respectively and the Portland, OR club of the Pacific Coast League went to San Jose, CA, while the Seattle club went to Ventura, CA. Yet the Tacoma, WA Club of the Pacific National League stayed home! Those clubs that did travel went no where near the cities a team would look at for a potential spring training site today. Although I have never be to Leavenworth, KS or South Bend, IN I for one would be afraid to even try some like spring training there until about the 15th of May.
Thoughout the first 85 years of history of minor league baseball, their many stories of teams training in unusual places, places you and I would not think of having our favorite team stretching out a winters worth of inactivity. Some clubs even trained in Canada, as did the 1950 Wenatchee, WA Club of the Western International League, who trained at Oliver, British Columbia. That same year the Victoria, BC club of the same league went to another BC town called Kamloops, a city that may get their first regular season team in 2003 when the Canadian Baseball League begins play. If you think that is crazy, in 1950 the Vancouver, BC club began a three year run at Penticton, BC. Teams going North is not something that was restricted to a few Western International League teams in the early 1950s. The Waco, TX Club of the Big State League went to Bartlesville, OK in 1949. The Durham, NC club of the Piedmont League went to Bear Mountain, NY to train with the Dodgers in 1943. The Miami Beach, FL Club of the Florida International League went to Greenwood, MS in 1946 and the 1950 Bartlesville club of Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League went to Hutchinson, KS in 1950. In all told we have identified 41 states that have a city with a history of hosting a team for spring training that is not their own regular season club. So why is it that they say fact is stranger then fiction?
As for teams belonging to the same parent club training together, that appears to have developed with the farm clubs of the Saint Louis Cardinals in the late 1930s. For some reason the idea really did not catch on until after World War 2. Even as late as 1972, some AAA clubs were not training with the rest of the clubs in their parent organization.
The independent leagues of the past decade have presented unique stories of clubs in training. The Atlantic League has all of their clubs train at a central location in Florida since the leagues inception. Although the concept is not unique, it does not seem to be a popular technique to use. It seems the concept was first used by the All-American Girls League in their heyday. Some leagues have also not had any spring training to speak of. In 1943 the clubs of the Class "E" Twin Ports League were formed just days before opening day. In the 1950s the clubs of the Man-Dak League were usually made up of barnstorming players who arrived in town just days before opening day. Since the changes in the minor league baseball lineup that were made after the 1963 season, some leagues are formed in that short period between the June draft and opening day.
There are still many more challenges to be faced before we complete writing the History of Spring Training. One of the more common problems we except to face include teams that moved during spring training and teams and leagues that folded after beginning their spring drills. If you are interested in helping with the research please feel free to join SABR and be apart of their efforts to document every aspect of baseball history. A membership in the spring training committee is a very easy option once you are a SABR member. As a member of the spring training committee at the very least I may ask you to document the history of Spring Training in your hometown. Any other questions please free to send me an e-mail.